I first went to Paris in 1989, living on the outskirts of Versailles for some years. I used to love taking the train into the city center and walking along the banks of the Seine, on the weekends. Stopping off at the bouquinistes, looking at the books, before grabbing a beer or a wine in one of the old cafes. Parisian life on the left bank.
When we went over in November, 2017, to launch The Dublin Trilogy as a homage to Baudelaire ( it was the 150th anniversary of his death) we stayed in a beautiful old hotel just five minutes from Notre Dame and Place Saint Michel. All the old ghosts came back to haunt me. I was really hit by profound feeling of time passing. This new poem taps into all of that, and my reading of Dante and Baudelaire, two sides of the same coin.
A toi fiston!
Place Saint Michel & Baudelaire
Place Saint Michel, exiting from the Metro
Station, head perfectly aligned with street level,
The whoosh of air shunting up, intensity of
Movement from humans and their machines.
As you step up onto the street, like a priest upon an
Altar, or a passenger boarding a transport to some
Foreign destination, transcending the past, and a
Smokeless Notre Dame, without hunchback
But garlanded instead with saints, angels and gargoyle,
Towering above you, and the Seine, and all the goblets
Of Jupiters toasting in Le Depart, all manner of
Phenomenon vying for your eye, till you turn to face
The fountain, and it hits you - the Haussemannian
Edifice sublime! Its demonic aspect, once again
Startling you. This is France, not Ireland, so the
Christian motif is inspired, by Baudelaire.
This then the Satanic tributary where the source
Of evil flows… BOREDOM. The great Dantesque
Symbol of Satan, vanquished at Michel’s feet, the
Residual feature of an acute medievalism, which
On first sight might appear antiquated. This then
The great deception. For, nothing could be further
From the truth. So, what are the modern ingredients
To furnish the monster? What could possibly further
Stoke the apparition to conjure him rudely to our
21st century, I almost wrote sensibility!... I’m clearly
At a loss as to what to say… However, move on!
Systematic annihilation, or better yet, as the Romans
Called it, decimation. In that it is a form of daily
Destruction, so finely attuned as to be a sign of an
Acute precision. “Why the forty hour week!”, Monsieur
Replies. “Cest ca, l’horreur!” To borrow a culinary
Term, complete reduction! When played out over an
Entire life, 50 or so years, three hundred and thirty- odd
Days a year, taken away to be consigned to toil,
In the banality of the quotidian, starting with the
Commute, be it on plane, bus, car or on a train.
Body odours, or deodorant, and undesired for
Monologues on mobile phones assail you in
Succession, all with the hellish vision of 1000
Idiots before you scrolling on their iPhones, all
Being continuously surveyed, each conversation,
Text, post, or prattle. No escape from the Leviathan,
Which amasses now in the shape of Satan.
“Papa Satàn, Papa Satàn aleppe!” This then the
Shape of the ravenous beast that Saint Michael
Seeks to ward off, destroy, attired as he is in
Breast plate, brandishing the sword, finger in
The air! The 19th century symbolism redolent,
And hitting you like an aural shock. Unbalancing
You. So, that you step out onto the street, while
Catching your breath, getting your bearings as
You slightly falter; such is middle-age.
And walking down the boulevard of your youth,
Crossing over once again into the labyrinth,
In the footsteps of Dedalus. Mon semblabe, mon frere.